Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:
What do we mean by diversity? And why is it good – or not?
For all the myriad debates about diversity today, such questions are rarely addressed in any depth. The latest hoo-ha was generated by a Lionel Shriver column in the Spectator, which questioned publisher Penguin Random House’s pledge to make the company more diverse. ‘We want both our new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025’, PRH announces on its website.
‘Drunk on virtue,’ Shriver wrote, ‘Penguin Random House no longer regards the company’s raison d’être as the acquisition and dissemination of good books.’ She went on: ‘Literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual preference and crap-education boxes.’ From now on, ‘a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter… will be published’ even if it is ‘incoherent, tedious, meandering’.
It was a bog-standard anti-diversity rant wrapped up in Shriveresque language, mixing valid criticisms with over-the-top assertions. The line about the ‘gay transgender Caribbean’ is a tired cliche, clearly satirical, but also clearly intended to provoke a response. And provoke it did.